Family History Comes Alive in Neubergthal: An Interview With Jamie Karr

For most of us, our grandparent’s old homes and farmsteads cannot be visited, as they’ve been either torn down or have new owners… but in my friend Jamie’s situation is kind of extraordinary: her grandparent’s home has been turned into a National Historic Site!

Jamie and her daughter Rachel learning about Mennonite floor patterns in the Klippenstein/Eddie Schmidt house.

Jamie’s grandparents had moved away from the farm in the 1980’s, and she hadn’t been back since… until this past September, for Neubergthal Culture Day.

On the second floor, you can walk across the roof of the gahnk from the house to the barn!

Andrew and I were Neubergthal Culture Day too. As we stood in line for the evening meal, we suddenly saw Jamie approaching — and she was positively glowing! We agreed to meet up within the week, to discuss her experience. A few days later, we sat at the island in my kitchen. Here’s an idea of our conversation:

E: What caused you to become interested in Neubergthal?

J: Well, when you’d mention housebarns on Mennotoba, I’d remember that my grandpa grew up in a housebarn. My family had already moved away from Neubergthal when it became a national historic site, and my uncle mentioned it on Facebook. I was intrigued! The last time I’d been in Neubergthal, I was 12 years old.

E: And now, you brought Rachel… how old is she?

J: She’s 12.

E: Whoa, that kind of gives me chills. What did Rachel think of it?

J: She found it fascinating! We were even treated to a personal tour!

E: Had you known that you’re descended from the original settlers of Neubergthal?

J: Not really, I don’t think anyone really talked about that…

Jamie’s great-grandfather had fallen into this cistern, caught pneumonia, and passed away. Two months later, Jamie’s grandfather (who was 4 at the time) fell into this same cistern… the family’s hired man Eddie Schmidt saved him.

E: So, what do you remember of Neubergthal, from when you were a child?

J: I remember exploring the house and barn and yard… I specifically remember the cemetery. There had been lots of huge huge trees.

Gravestone for Jamie’s great-great-grandfather, Bernhard Klippenstein.

J: Being there, just really brings it to life! It’s fascinating, going through on a tour, you can see some of the details they were actually quite wealthy coming from Russia. This photo here (points to a photo in the Neubergthal book), you can see the house is at a T to the barn instead of all being just one straight line — it was frowned upon that they built their house like that; it was too worldly. Also, the curve and the notch of the beams is an impressive feature because the tamarack would’ve been a very difficult wood to carve. And, the carving that they did in the barn, the calligraphy of my great-great-grandfather’s initials was very amazing to see.

E: Can you share a bit about the impact that Neubergthal Culture Day had on Rachel?

J : She was fascinated learning about her history, that her great-grandpa lived in this house. I’d wondered how much she was really taking in, but afterward she kept saying that it was so exciting and really cool. Now my son Seth who’s ten wants to come next time we go! It’s coming to life — I feel like my awareness has just exploded. Imagining people over a hundred years ago walking there, wearing this item, using that item — it’s like a museum, but even more intriguing because it’s my family.

Painted floors in Jamie’s great-grandmother’s bedroom.

J: Recently, Rachel had to do a family history project for school, and she focused on my husband’s Scottish history; we’ve been learning about how he’s descended from Vikings and mercenaries, and I just thought my own family history’s so boring… but then we stepped into Neubergthal. Rachel actually said, “The next time I have a family history project, I’m for sure doing it on Neubergthal!”

(Photos all courtesy of Jamie Karr. Thank-you for sharing your experience with Mennotoba!)